SBS students take on special projects

(published 3/9/2015 in the Laconia Citizen)

SANBORNTON — All over the country, schools are recognizing the value of project-based learning, and are adding time in their schedules for this type of learning. Sant Bani School in Sanbornton has been committed to project-based learning since its founding in 1973. One highlight of this commitment is the school’s Projects Period. Sant Bani School gives students two weeks, including the traditional February break week, to work on an individual project based on what they are passionate about learning.

Students start by writing a formal proposal which must be approved by the Projects Period Committee, made up of teachers from different grades and subjects, and culminates with students formally presenting their work to a group of mixed-age students and teachers when they return to school. Students have been exploring a wide range of hands-on learning experiences including job-shadowing, service projects, travel journals, large-scale art projects, cooking and so much more.

“During Sant Bani’s Projects Period, the sky truly is the limit,” said Projects Period Committee Chairman Ann Littlefield, who is the fifth-grade language arts teacher and director of Special Services. “It is up to each student and his/her imagination and creativity to create their learning plan.” One example of this student-directed learning can be seen by visiting the Dumont family in New Hampton with eighth-grader Paige, sixth-grader Cassidy and third-grader Jolee.

Paige’s project was inspired by sitting next to kindergartner Emma Torsey on the school bus. She learned that Emma’s family raises sled dogs at their farm in Plymouth. Paige had recently adopted an Australian shepherd, Olive, and knew this breed of dog is happiest when it has a job to do. She thought perhaps driving a sled could be that job for Olive.

When it was time to write her Projects Period proposal, she asked the Torseys if she could work at the farm for two weeks and learn about training sled dogs. “I have learned that taking care of all of these dogs is a lot harder and messier than I thought,” Paige said. “I never could have imagined how tough it is to lift a husky into the kennel on the truck. I have also learned a lot about dogs and their different personalities. It has made me learn more about Olive, my own dog, and what she might be thinking or trying to tell me. It has been a lot of hard work, but it has been fun work.”

Cassidy combined two of her strongest interests, community service and sewing, to come up with her project plan. She is hand-stitching 25 felt and fabric stuffed owls and including inspirational poems to donate to patients at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock (CHaD). “I hope the owls will cheer up the kids at ChaD and make them feel more at home than in a hospital,” Cassidy said.

She got the idea to make and donate these owls after her younger cousin was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her cousin’s favorite animal is an owl, so Cassidy made her cousin a stuffed one. “It really cheered my cousin up, so I thought I could do the same for other children,” she said. “I am really looking forward to mailing these owls to the hospital after Projects Period.”

The youngest Dumont sister, Jolee, wanted to learn a second language. “I want to be able to talk to anyone who is deaf. I got the idea while looking at a book in the school library,” Jolee said. “I have been learning sign language by reading books and using a program online through YouTube. My favorite part has been learning different signs for animals. I am making a poster of these signs right now to share as my finished project.”

“Sant Bani’s Projects Period is not only about the finished product, it is about the process,”said Littlefield. Students’ proposals must include what they want to learn, how they plan to learn it, what resources they will use and what their goal is. All projects are great learning experiences. “Sometimes the students who struggle to meet their original project goals learn the most,” Littlefield said. The process of reflection and presenting their work to fellow students and their teachers is the culmination of Projects Period.

The public is invited to see all of this year’s projects at the Projects Display and Pizza Café on Friday, March 13, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. The sixth-grade class sells dinner as a fundraiser, and all projects are on display throughout the school’s main building. Select projects will also be displayed at the Sanbornton Public Library from March 17 through 28.

You can learn more about Sant Bani School and other upcoming school events at